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WIDEBODY E36 M3: EVERGREEN

Posted by Matt Bell on 21st June 2021

For as long as there have been cars, patriotic British racers have been painting them British Racing Green. But what on Earth is this colour doing on a widebody E36 M3 in Texas? Bizarrely, once we delve into the back-story, it actually makes perfect sense…

From Performance BMW. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Danh Phan

If we peek back through the swirling mists of time to 1903, and specifically to the Gordon Bennett Cup races of that year, we find the origins of British Racing Green. Motorsport at the time was illegal in England, so this UK leg of the cup was held in Ireland (which was then still part of the United Kingdom), and the British entrants painted their cars in shamrock green in honour of their Irish hosts. The theme stuck, and as countries began to adopt national racing colours (French Racing Blue, for example), the Irish green paradoxically became an intrinsically British thing.

Unsurprisingly then, it’s never been a hue particularly associated with BMWs. However, there is one notable exception: the E36 M3 GT. This limited-run special, built to homologate the E36 for the FIA European GT Series, is often mistaken for the more common Boston Green, but no – look closer and you’ll see that it’s the distinctive and non-metallic BRG that’s been inexplicably chosen.

This is a decision which fascinated Houston-based BMW superfan Alexander Jackson (aka AJ) (@bimerdude ), and it’s something he’s paid homage to here with his own M3 build. You see, he spent his youth watching E36 Touring Cars racing on his TV screen; “I grew up watching the DTM, seeing the M3s wiping the floor with the Mercedes 190Es,” he explains – and what better way to pay tribute to those memories than to paint his car in British Racing Green, a colour which neatly draws together the threads of race cars and homologation specials, while also being nerdy enough to appeal to true enthusiasts? This colour, of course, was never officially offered in the US market, so it serves as a cunning Easter egg for true BMW aficionados.

All of this suggests, quite rightly, that AJ hasn’t fallen into any of these decisions by accident. Indeed, he’s a lifelong Beemer obsessive, as his automotive history (and current alter-ego as ‘Bimmer Dude’ on YouTube) attests: “I’ve been into BMWs since the third grade,” he says. “My dad bought my mom a 1992 E30 325i Sedan, and I felt like it was the fastest car ever! I used to love getting picked up from school in it. The brand is special to me because of my dad, he bought me my first BMW in high school – a time when I knew nothing about cars. Since it was an older car it needed a lot of cosmetic work but it was mechanically sound; however, one weekend my best friend, Lloyd Baldemor, and I decided to drive it to the beach and it overheated on us halfway there. We got stranded and my dad had to come help us get it towed home. It sat in my parents’ garage for years, broken… that’s when I decided I would learn to work on cars myself.”

So the passion was ingrained, and so was the enthusiasm to get stuck in. After years of drooling over BMW builds in Euro Power magazine, it was inevitable that a broad spectrum of Bavarian rides would pass through the Jackson stable. When he got his first IT job (he now works as a network engineer), AJ treated himself to a 2000 328Ci, which ended up with all manner of neat styling twists and fancy wheels. Today, the driveway sports an E46 M3 as the daily driver, an E39 530i Sport – his wife’s daily – and, of course, the British Racing Green street weapon we see here. It’s a 1999 E36 M3 Convertible, originally chosen because the E36 reminded him of the one his dad had bought him all those years ago. “It needed a lot of work, but the drivetrain was solid,” AJ recalls. “Plus it pulled like a freight train! I found it at a used car dealership that always had classic BMWs for sale; it was a trade-in car, the interior is was in horrible shape and the convertible top barely worked… not to mention the fact that the ragtop had a ton of small tears. It leaked water every time it rained!”

But our hero saw only potential here, and he got busy rectifying the woes and making everything brighter straight away. It’s one of those projects that starts out as a mild resto and transforms into a full-on street-and-show effort; not simply a case of fixing the faults, but cranking the dial up to the next level. Job one was to spruce up that rank interior, which was deftly dealt with in short order by the addition of a pair of tasty Recaro SR-6 seats (“I feel like every old BMW needs some type of Recaro seat,” grins AJ), and of course, it was necessary to stop that pesky water ingress. The solution here has been quite a radical one, essentially by stopping the convertible being a convertible at all. AJ was somehow lucky enough to track down a super-rare OEM-option aluminium hardtop, and in the process of fitting it, he stripped out and threw away all of the mechanisms and wiring for the drop-top, thereby saving a handy 115kg-ish of weight.

The next thing to ‘fix’ was the fact that the M3 was an automatic. Not a problem to many, sure, but… well, it’s a question of purity, isn’t it? AJ’s aspirations were fuelled by those childhood because-race-car vibes, so there was no question that he’d have to bolt a manual ’box in there sooner rather than later. A Clutch Masters Stage 3 clutch and 11lb flywheel found their way in at the same time, and the original auto-spec LSD axle was retained as AJ prefers the torquier ratio. And since the engine had to come out for the transmission swap, it would have been rude not to show it a little love before dropping the big-six back in, right? AJ rolled up his sleeves and set about massaging things to improve the S52’s vital stats: a ported and polished head with ARP studs was bolted on to ensure consistent compression, and the combination of an M50 manifold and Dinan big-bore throttle body work together to optimise efficiency. The engine was remote dyno-tuned by TRM Tuning in Atlanta, via Mayco Performance in Houston and, with its new mods along with a stainless Supersprint system (chosen for its free-flowing nature as well as its bassy, non-raspy sound) it now makes an impressive 257whp and 238lb ft wtq.

As he was busy stalking through the spec list like a ruthless sniper, the chassis mods were the next target in AJ’s sights. The ageing suspension was unceremoniously ripped out and replaced by a bespoke set of CX Racing coilovers. “These have custom-valved dampers from BC Racing, along with Swift springs to ensure the suspension remains planted,” he explains. “I also fitted custom monoball tie rod ends, Whiteline front control arm bushes, Powerflex rear subframe bushes and diff mounts, as well as solid monoball trailing arm bushes and differential bolt bracing from Garagistic.” The brakes are pretty fancy too, being a Brembo BBK from a 996-generation Porsche 911. With all of this belt-and-braces stuff taken care of, AJ then set his sights a little higher. Or, more specifically, wider.

“I’m not usually a fan of wide-body kits,” he admits, “as they often don’t follow the body lines of the car. But when this Pandem kit came out for the E36 M3, it reminded me so much of the racers I grew up watching – so I went for it! I ordered the kit and installed it all myself in my garage, filming it for the Bimmer Dude YouTube channel.” Everything was then lovingly slathered in that 312-code British Racing Green paint, and the results really are magnificent. The race car heritage, the aggression of the girth, the combination of a relatively sober shade and some seriously ostentatious lines, it all adds up to something impressive and, frankly, slightly scary.

Those fat arches needed to be filled with something equally chunky, and AJ was ahead of the curve here: “I wanted a wheel that was widely unknown,” he says, “something that reminded you of others but was also clearly unique. What I’ve chosen is a set of Dinan Enduro three-piece wheels, custom-specced to 10.5×17” at the front and 12.5×17” at the rear. Only 50 sets of these wheels were ever made by DP Motorsport, a specialist Porsche tuning outfit, built for E34s equipped with Dinan turbos. My inspiration was to gain a Time Attack-inspired look for the streets; a way to make a statement whether standing still or in motion.” It’s fair to say he’s achieved this goal, and with that puzzle piece clicked into place, the overall outlook is pretty bright. Sitting in the driver’s seat, it’s the perfect fusion of retro-cool and modern modding. “I generally buy used parts and recondition them, and build the interior around the seat design,” AJ explains, and those Recaros make for a great centrepiece alongside the brutalist Cliqtuning chassis-mounted gear shifter and racer-chic deep-dish steering wheel. It’s in this up-and-at-’em position that AJ can enjoy his favourite element of the whole car. No, it’s not the wide-body arches, or the iconic colour, or the screaming S52. It’s that rare-as-hens’-teeth aluminium hardtop. “It gives the widebody E36 M3 an open and airy feel when driving without actually having the roof open,” he reasons. “It’s the most fun you can have in a car without the top down! And it also stiffens the chassis quite a bit…”

As AJ outlined in his Bimmer Dude videos when he fitted the Pandem kit, the build is dedicated to his late father, who sadly passed away with cancer around that time. AJ has a whole wish list to work through to add further kudos to that legacy: a full roll-cage, a turbo, an interior retrim, six-pot Brembos, there’s a long way to go. But this is more about the journey than the destination. And with that iconic paint colour determining a consistent thread of motorsport thrills, this is one ride which is going to keep getting more and more thrilling.

Tech Spec: Widebody E36 M3

Engine & Transmission:

3.2-litre straight-six S52B32, ported and polished decked cylinder head, ARP head studs, Dinan intake with heat shield, M50 intake manifold, Dinan big-bore throttle body, Supersprint exhaust manifold, mid-pipe and axle-back stainless exhaust system, TRM custom dyno tune. ZF Type C five-speed manual gearbox, Clutch Masters Stage 3 clutch, 11lb flywheel, auto-spec LSD

Power:

257whp and 238lb ft wtq

Chassis:

10.5×17” ET-26 (front) and 12.5×17” ET-56 (rear) Dinan Enduro three-piece wheels with 275/40 (front) and 315/35 (rear) Toyo Extensa HP tyres, CX Racing coilovers with custom-valved BC Racing dampers and 12k/14k Swift springs, custom monoball tie rods, monoball trailing arm bushes, Whiteline front control arm bushes, Powerflex rear subframe bushes and diff mounts, Porsche 996 911 big brake kit

Exterior:

British Racing Green (312) paint, OEM aluminium hardtop, Rocket Bunny Pandem wide-body kit, ZWING bash bar, Depo/ZKW headlights

Interior:

Recaro SR-6 seats, Sparco L320 steering wheel, Cliqtuning chassis-mounted gear lever, custom Android in-dash OBC